There once was a man named Joe Kuharich. He coached the Eagles in the mid-'60s. It was not a glorious time for the franchise. Then as now, there were critics. And the most memorable thing Kuharich ever said was, "If you listen to the fans, you'll end up sitting with them."
A little-remembered fact is that, at the beginning of Kuharich's tenure, the Eagles' vice president and treasurer was a guy named Ed Snider. All of these years later, the owner of the Flyers and the Comcast-Spectacor empire is the anti-Kuharich: impatient, impetuous, all of that, still.
"I've been through it," Snider said. "You know when you're wrong about something. You don't need people to tell you - but, at the same time, the fans let you know. And the thing I've found out is that the fans are usually right.
"This is a great sports town. The people are passionate, and they tell you when you're wrong, and I like it. I like it as much as I ever have."
It was how we ended a conversation that began with this:
You're 78 years old, and you've been at it forever, and now you've sold the Sixers, and isn't this just the first step, the beginning of your walk off of the stage?
Snider kind of laughed at that one, too.
"No," he said. "Absolutely not. Absolutely not. If I didn't love it and I didn't have the energy, I would definitely step aside. But I don't feel like I'm slowing down in any way, shape or form. I think I still have the energy. I still love everything about it.
"They may have to carry me out of here - and I'm serious," Snider said.
A decade ago, you wondered. Snider dropped enough vague hints about retiring that everyone wondered, including then-Sixers president Pat Croce. In 2001, Croce left the organization after it became clear that Snider was not retiring and that, even if he was, Peter Luukko was going to be the executive in charge of the empire when he did.
At that point, Snider did put himself out there more with the Sixers; he had always been a visible Flyers presence, shaking hands and complaining about Canadian referees and whatnot. You could joke with Luukko about the dress code that Snider and the pack of executives accompanying him on playoff road trips used to adopt: suits and ties for the Flyers, a little more business casual for the Sixers, sometimes on alternating nights. Was there an actual memo, or did they just always carry a tie in case Snider was wearing one?
Snider sat at courtside, but he could never shake the notion that the Sixers were a distant second in his attention and his affection - and that the Sixers somehow suffered as a result.
"Look - I started the Flyers," he said. "It's in my blood. But even if that is true, I still love basketball. I was very involved with the Sixers. I cared. I love the game and the team."
The Sixers made the NBA Finals once in Snider's time and lost money in the last handful of years, at least. Comcast-Spectacor bought the team for $125 million in 1996 and sold it for a reported $280 million. The return on his investment, then, was an entirely unspectacular 5.5 percent a year. For comparison's sake, the S&P 500 average grew at 4.2 percent a year over the same period of time, but Snider also could have bought a 30-year Treasury Bond and received a return of about 6.8 percent. Then again, Sixers-as-tenant and Sixers-as-cable programming served other lines on the Comcast-Spectacor ledger quite well, thanks.
No windfall, then - and no championships. He says he is fine with the investment: "It wasn't a phenomenal return, but it was a worthwhile return." As for the championships, it does rankle. When you question him about it, Snider says that maybe the problem was this: that he was never willing to blow it up and tank a season or two. He would not suck for luck (in the draft lottery).
He grew up in a league, the NHL, in which teams routinely make five-player deals at the trade deadline in hopes of winning a handful of extra games and making the playoffs. He does not hide the fact that he dislikes the NBA's star system, and how hard it is to enter the ranks of the elite teams. And it is a total disconnect to him, the idea of losing to win.
Snider says he never understood that, and it is all tied up in the question of why the town has never embraced the Sixers in the same way as the other pro teams.
"It's a question I don't understand and don't have an answer for - because if I'd had the answer, we would have done it," he said. "It's a mystery to me. It just seems that there is a negativity. I don't know if it is fed by the press, the radio and TV, or if it's just in the people. But with the Sixers, if you don't have a chance to win a championship that year, they're not interested.
"It's never been like that with the Flyers. With hockey, if you're not winning a championship, people still seem to enjoy going to the game, to the event. With the Sixers, we have an exciting basketball team. I enjoyed every game I went to last year. To me, it's great entertainment. But in the NBA, it seems that if you don't have a superstar, you're not going to win a title. That's unfortunate.
"Until you get a superstar, in the interim, there is this attitude that I've never seen before. They want you to lose games, so you can get a lottery pick. They want you to lose! I've never understood that.
"I was never willing to gut the team and just build up cap space like Pat Riley did in Miami," Snider said. "We tried to use our draft choices well and build a team. We tried to build with our first-round picks. Maybe we were wrong, but we always felt that now mattered, too."
As of this week, it is somebody else's problem, of course. And if there are things to debate about his tenure with the Sixers, this is offered without challenge: Even after all of these years, tearing up a pretty good hockey team and rebuilding it in one summer is much more Ed Snider's style.
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